CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Spinning into Retirement

One woman’s Journey

When I was single, my father used to tell me that single people who weren’t in a committed relationship were usually “married” to the job or material things like an automobile or a house.  In other words, he was politely telling me at the time that I was married to a job while in pursuit of buying a house – a major goal for me when I was single.  The job and the house had become “my boyfriend”.

Goals and priorities change over the years.  I am now a “married old lady” with about 10 years of retirement behind me.  It took a long time to adjust to retirement, but with the help of the members of the Sacramento Weavers and Spinners Guild, I finally eased into it.  Surprisingly enough, the Guild made me finally realize that retirement is the best time for me because my time is my own.  I’m proudly living like the bumper sticker that says, “Retirement:  Don’t Wanna, Don’t Have To”.

This spring a new “boyfriend”, Magnus, came into my life.  He is a handmade spinning wheel from 1993 (#160) hand-crafted by Magnus Drudik of Salem, Oregon.  I was told Mr. Drudik was very popular when he made these wheels.  Some spinners waited up to six years for his creations, and each one was different.  I have met a few owners of the Drudik spinning wheel, and the story is the same:
“We were on the waiting list for years,” or “We drove to Oregon to pick it up.”


A spinner extraordinaire in the Sacramento Weavers and Spinning Guild said that Mr. Drudik had retired from making these spinning wheels.  In her opinion, my wheel is a collector’s item and needs to be treated like a collector’s item as well as a fine piece of furniture.  Therefore, I should stop lugging it around to meetings and classes and quit showing it off.

What turned my head about Magnus?  For one thing, I wasn’t expecting him to turn up at a spinners’ meeting, and I couldn’t believe he was up for sale.  As a former resident living on the California-Oregon border for over a decade, I knew all about the qualities and the beauty of myrtlewood.  It is a hardwood dating back to Biblical times, and in Oregon, the wood has been used for fine gifts since the 1900s.

“You are agonizing about buying this, aren’t you?” asked one spinner.

Yeah, no kidding.  New spinning wheels these days cost a minimum of a grand.  This was a far cry from the eBay wheel from Texas which cost me about $150 with postage, but I had been out of the loop for a few years and wasn’t keeping up with improved designs or inflation.

Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I brought Magnus to a corner of the meeting room with a handful of roving.  Like the other spinners in the room, I was going to allow myself the luxury to try him out.   If I was going to take up spinning, again, I was determined not to spend the rest of my life spinning nothing but lumpy-bumpy beginner yarn.  When I first joined the Sacramento Weavers and Spinners Guild, its members were spinning wool.  Now, the members were also spinning cotton, flax and rare breeds.  In a spinning wheel, my wish was to have a machine which would go the distance with me–no matter what fiber I chose to spin.

This is my second time around for learning the art of spinning, and I didn’t know if I would truly latch onto the technique. I tried spinning in 2005, but ended up selling my ‘bargain wheel’, that I had purchased on eBay, to a very excited young woman and her kilt-wearing boyfriend.  I had made all my beginner’s mistakes in purchasing that wheel.  I didn’t test the wheel.  I assumed you bought a spinning wheel (any spinning wheel) with price in mind.

That wheel was shipped to my home from its disgruntled former owner in Texas.  From the looks of the wheel, it was seldom used.  I took a few classes and read books on spinning, but nothing sunk in, and I couldn’t do anything with that spinning wheel but screw up the tension and break yarn as I went along.  One spinner told me that in my mind, I simply didn’t like that particular wheel.  Another told me that this model was hard for first time spinners to use, and he would never recommend buying one.  When I think about that, now, I know they were both right.  Within six months, my spinning wheel found a place in my living room and was gathering dust.  At the time, no matter what I did, I found no joy in spinning.

As I admired Magnus, I finally decided to get over myself, and when it came to spinning, I was now determined to swim instead of sink.  By the end of the meeting, I made arrangements to pay for the spinning wheel and pick it up.  I was taking a big risk, but somehow I felt it was the right thing to do.  I knew I would kick myself and have plenty of regrets if I passed up the opportunity of buying such an example of handmade art.  From the time I saw Magnus, I felt my name being stamped all over the wheel.  In my mind, Magnus was already mine.

Arlene and Magnus at work

Since then, I’ve taken the advice of the spinners at the Guild and have been spinning every day.  Whether it’s 10 minutes or 2 hours, it doesn’t matter.  As my husband watches his mindless television on HD, I spin the world away with the help of Magnus, my new boyfriend.
At times, he screams, “Go man, go!” at the larger-than-life heavyweights or at the slender quarterback being chased by men twice his size. This tells me he is still breathing, we are still married and all is well in suburbia.
But I’m somewhere else, smiling serenely as I fill bobbin after bobbin of my own slubby creations in a creamy Merino blend.  I also found that some of my best spinning is done when I’m angry.  In the past, I used to lob off spent roses with loppers, but now spinning away into oblivion achieves much better results.  There is something about spinning and weaving where repetition brings peace.  Instead of an angry hum that I could feel when I worked, there is a pleasant hum to spinning.  Or maybe it’s because I got carried away and haven’t oiled my machine?

I’m enjoying spinning, now, and a lot of it has to do with the beauty of my spinning wheel, the motivation to learn and the instant results.  And it’s also because I’m smart enough to keep myself surrounded by highly creative individuals.  This is why it’s important for me to attend monthly Guild meetings, plus the monthly spinners and weavers meetings.  This is how I keep the creativity alive.  Whether they know it or not, creative people inspire me, and they are also the most generous individuals on Earth.  One day, I will have the skills to pass on my knowledge to beginning spinners, but for now, I am content to sit at the meetings, ask questions, and learn.  Someday, I will return the favor.  Until then, I oooooh and aaaaaaah over someone else’s creations and mean it.

So what am I going to do with all this yarn I’ve spun?  When I get enough skeins, of course, I want to learn how to dye them.  Until then, they are welcomed additions I have happily added to my stash.

I hope this issue has inspired you.  If you would like to contribute, or know someone who has a story to tell, read on!